Courtroom and prosecuting experience matters.
That’s the argument Queens District attorney candidate Gregory Lasak makes pointing to his 14 years as a Queens County Supreme Court judge and 25 years as a Queens assistant district attorney rising in the ranks to chief of the Homicide Bureau and executive assistant for the Major Crime Division.
“As head of the Major Crime Division I oversaw the prosecutions of all homicides, sex crimes, career criminals, and domestic violence felonies,” said Lasak in a phone interview with QCP.
Lasak said he stepped down from the Queens bench in September after speaking with Queens DA Richard A. Brown, who has held the office since 1991 and is rumored to be retiring at the age of 86.
Lasak says while he has the experience as both a judge and prosecutor, he also understands how both Queens and the times have changed. This includes a growing need for criminal justice reforms.
“It has to be reformed and I’m best suited to reform the system because I’ve seen the justice system from the inside,” said Lasak. “Queens is the most diverse county, and the first thing I intend to do is to make sure the office reflects that diversity.”
Lasak said this diversity must be reflected not only in prosecutors, but at the managerial level of the office as well. Additionally, one elected Lasak said he will evaluate every assistant district attorney and all the bureau chiefs.
Likewise, Lasak said while working as an executive assistant in the Queens DA office he was doing the work of a conviction integrity unit long before the term came into vogue.
“I don’t know what I’ll call it, but before anyone thought of the words, I was doing that work,” said Lasak, recalling how in the 1990s he would get calls from defense attorneys and letters from convicts upstate proclaiming their innocence.
“We exonerated approximately 20 people who were innocent and sitting in jail,” he said.
“I will put together a team of veteran prosecutors to take a look at any case that any lawyer or defendant has a claim of innocence and will reinvestigate those through prosecutors, and I will oversee these cases myself and act accordingly,” he said.
Lasak said once elected he will also change the mindset of young assistant district attorneys so they can be amendable to the possibility that they may have prosecuted an innocent person. These ADAs have to be made to understand sometimes mistakes are made. It could be the witnesses or the police officers. It is not a perfect system that’s why the mindset needs to be changed, he said.
In regard to marijuana prosecutions, Lasak said until the state legalizes marijuana, those arrested for small amounts will either be diverted to programs or he will decline to prosecute because once a young person gets caught up in the justice system it could ruin their life. This could keep them from getting into a good school or a good job, perhaps a union job or a professional graduate school, he said.
In regard to bail reform Lasak said he will practice as a rule of thumb that if the prosecutor is not asking for jail time at the end of the case, they should not ask for bail at the beginning of the case.
“I will teach young assistants to formulate that as a policy otherwise they are just trying to force a plea,” Lasak said.
Lasak is a lifelong Queens residents. Born and raised in Woodside, he attended Holy Cross High School and graduated from Queens College. He raised his family in Richmond Hill, where his oldest son is a state trooper and his two youngest children are attorneys..
As for his announced opponents – Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman. Lasak called them good people, but career politicians. They are both in a situation where they will be term limited out of their present jobs, he said.
“I gave up a very good job [Supreme Court Judge] to run for Queens DA. I didn’t need the job, but I feel at this point the DA job is too important. It’s not a job for a politician with no experience in my opinion,” he said, noting there are about 325 lawyers and 300 other jobs working out of the DA office.
“I don’t see how you can run an office you know nothing about. Neither of my opponents have ever been a defense attorney or in a courtroom. This is a serious job. It takes a lot of experience and you learn something new every day. It’s a very focussed area. You’re dealing with people’s lives,” Lasak said.